If the NHS enforces its plans to cut journeys to hospices, terminally ill patients risk isolation, according to two charities from Kent.
Private security contractor G4S took over Kent and Medway Patient Transport Service in July after the previous transport operator, NSL, decided not to renew its contract. The ambulances are for non-emergency cases and primarily used to transport patients who cannot reach the hospital on their own for their appointments. The ambulances also ferry others who want to visit the hospice outreach centres for counselling and other important healthcare services.
The service was purchased by West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group. The group stated that the transport provided by NSL to the hospices across Kent and Medway was an informal arrangement and did not fall under the eligibility criteria of non-emergency transport. Hence, it would be withdrawing the service.
While the eligibility criteria for non-emergency transport is set at the national level, in Kent, the service is viewed as a vital one for patients. Some patients stated that they will be unable to attend the hospices’ day centres as a return taxi journey would be too expensive. For patients such as these, it is not only about visiting the day centres but is also an opportunity for them to socialise and mingle, which can help them cope with their illness.
West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group Chief Officer Ian Ayres said that the contract with G4S is just for journeys for patients who are too ill to make it for NHS appointments on their own. He added that while the hospices provide important services to people reaching the end of their lives, and they receive funding for the NHS for this purpose, the hospices do not usually provide NHS appointments.
Ayres stated that there would be no changes for the next three months while the two hospices made alternative arrangements. He reiterated that transportation for patients who are at the end of their lives would not witness any change.